Wayne Chau Pui-por has his own way of getting things done.
When he approached Procter & Gamble, the American multinational consumer goods giant, he didn’t ask for money to help the poor. Instead, he explained how he could access a one-million-strong local market for the company if it sold him toothpaste at a reduced rate. The result? That toothpaste is now used by tens of thousands of people across public housing estates in Hong Kong.
Chau runs a social enterprise called Agent of Change that operates pop-up stalls 300 days a year at housing estates and uses spare rooms at district council premises close by to sell quality foodstuffs and household goods at low cost to those who struggle to afford them. His aim is to provide good nutrition at affordable prices to those who depend on social security. Cooking oil, rice and other goods are packaged with written messages encouraging people to grab opportunities and improve their lives.
“I lived without electricity,” Chau, 30, recalls of his childhood on the mainland. He was born in Hepu in Guangxi province, and moved to Hong Kong at the age of 12 to live with his stepmother and brother. He found the change difficult as a teenager, and while he has a close relationship with his stepmother now, he didn’t back then. They lived in a subdivided flat in Sham Shui Po and he attended a band five school, under the old system of grading.
Chau went on to study computer science and he ran a successful public relations company before he set up Agent of Change. He currently employs five full-time staff, 20 part-timers and around 50 volunteers. The word “dignity” is important to his mission, and he uses it a lot when talking about the poor and underprivileged.
Looking back at his teenage years, he remembers elderly women living in illegal structures on the roof of his building. He recalls how they ate mouldy food sometimes, telling him it was all they could afford. In a way, Agent of Change is for them, he says.
There were even times when Chau lived on the streets as a student, but he managed to overcome being labelled a band five underperformer.
“I was shortlisted as one of the Hong Kong Outstanding Students by the Lion and Globe Educational Trust,” he says. “Other than me, all the other finalists were band one. So that really made a change to me and my school.” He set an example for his band five schoolmates to perform better academically.
Agent of Change provides 170,000 Hongkongers with low-priced quality foodstuffs and household goods. It’s been running for little more than a year, but Chau hopes to reach 300,000 by the end of the second year and extend the range of products.
He breaks down his philosophy to what he has dubbed the “five Cs”, which are “confidence and courage to go through difficulties to move up; courage to make a change; confidence to speak to people; choices and chances … Even if I’m underprivileged, I can still access quality products”, he says. “And finally, C for change out of poverty.”
Chau has used social media to spread his concept of “suspended consumption” in Hong Kong and on the mainland. An example of this is “suspended coffee”, which first appeared in Naples in Italy, where customers had the option to buy extra cups of coffee at cafes which would then be offered to homeless customers.
Agent of Change has applied the concept to “suspended vouchers”. People can pay HK$10 for toothpaste and a small bottle of oil that can be used by an elderly person for six months.
Chau has been nominated for the Lion Rock entrepreneur prize of the Spirit of Hong Kong Awards by local NGO Community Business. His nominators hailed his down-to-earth approach and dedication to his mission, highlighting how, through empowerment, he is helping to lift people out of the poverty he has known.